Cancer research and cannabinoids

Cannabinoids: a review on pre-clinical studies on anti-angiogenesis, apoptosis and reduction of MMP-2 expression inhibiting cancer cell growth

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist

June 24, 2018

@VThornleyMD

https://neurologybuzz.com/

Introduction

The surge of recognition of the medical significance of the cannabis sativa can no longer be ignored. Frustrated with the futility of current pharmaceutic agents, their associated side effects and costs, there is a growing tendency for more natriceutic measures of therapy. Shunned by physicians and by the public, there is a growing clamoring of medical marijuana advocates for its use. There is only a small proportion of physicians qualified to recommend this agent. Prescribing is federally illegal as it is still classified as category I drug. In the state of Florida alone, as of June 2018, out of 75,000 licensed physicians, only 2100 are qualified to recommend it or 2%. Long known for the stigma of its recreational value, its foothold in the medical community is slow-going. Most of the public associates the plant with unseemly, clandestine purposes. The federal law against it stands steadfast, with legislation moving at a molasses pace, even while recognized by state laws. These variables account for the great difficulty procuring this agent which is not only organic and all natural but medical in nature.

However, there is great interest in this plant. The pre-clinical data shows promise but more larger clinical trials are still needed. It seems to be far reaching in its effects and because it is still not well-studied, the vast number of purposes is still largely unknown.

Interest turns towards any anti-neoplastic application it might have. Pre-clinical data has shown some promise, although it may not always translate into human results. The scientific data points towards some benefits in the neoplastic process.

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Endocannabinoid system

In an overview of the endocannabinoid system, there are 2 cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptor is abundant in the nervous system and found to a lesser extent in other systems. It is through this receptor that psychoactive properties are activated. The CB2 receptor is found largely in the immune system. Anandamide interacts with the CB1 receptor, of which delta-9-tetrahydrocannabnol is a pharmacomimetic. While 2-AG or di-arachidonoylglycerol is a low affinity agonist at the CB1 receptor. Cannabidiol (CBD)is a mimetic of 2-AG, where 100 times the amount of CBD is needed to get the same effect as THC. It has a full ligand effect on the CB2 receptor. The CB1 receptor is a G-protein coupled receptor. Cannabidiol interacts with the TPRV transient receptor potential channel and the GPR or G-protein receptor family. Expression of the cannabinoid receptors are most notable in areas engaged with memory, motor, learning, emotions and endocrine functions.

Endocannabinoids and the role in cancer

The beneficial effects of cannabinoids on symptoms pertaining to neoplasms such as anorexia, nausea and pain are well-known. Investigations turn towards any effect on the actual neoplastic process.

An upregulation of CB receptors are found in high volume in cancerous processes. The enzymes involved are also at high levels. This suggests that the endocannabinoid system may play a role in the neoplastic process. The frequency of the receptors and amount of enzymes may correlate with the aggressiveness of the type of cancer. This suggests that the endocannabinoid system may be revved up and play a role in promoting a pro-tumor environment.

Conversely, there are studies suggesting that activation of the cannabinoid system may be anti-tumorigenic. Reduction of tumor growth was observed with a  reduction in the endocannabinoid degrading enzymes(1).

While there are some inconsistencies, overall, the anti-tumorigenic effects appear to be better demonstrated in pre-clinical studies.

Effect on tumor cells

Overall, there are more studies that cannabinoids including phytocannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol and synthetic cannabinoids such as JWH-017 show anti-tumorigenic effects.

In one study, the CB1 receptors were found to inhibit the anti-metastatic nature of the K562 cell line which acts as a chronic myelogenous leukemia model in the study (2).

In glioblastoma multiforme tumors, CB1 and CB2 receptors are both expressed. Altered expressions of the receptors were thought to correlate with the manifestation of gliomas and glioblastoma multiforme. Cannabinoids are thought to manifest anti-proliferative activity against tumor cells by 2 mechanisms: anti-neogenesis of vasculature and promotion of apoptosis (3). In one study of glioma stem cell-like cells from glioma cell lines and glioblastoma multiforme biopsies, there was demonstration of the presence of CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB receptor activation changed the gene expression that controlled the stem cell multiplication and differentiation. in addition, cannabinoids were found to reduce cells with the biomarker nestin which is a neuroepithelial cell progenitor. Cannabinoid treated stem like cells resulted in more differentiation and reduced expression of nestin which promotes glioma formation (3).

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Cannabinoids were found to reduce angiogenesis by inhibiting the migration of vascular endothelial cells and by stopping the expression of MMP and proangiogenic factor in neoplastic cells (4). By preventing the increased vasculature cell migration, tumor growth is suppressed. With cannabinoids selectively acting on tumor cells, apoptosis is rendered resulting further in the blocking the growth of cancer cells resulting in the reduction in the proliferation of cancer cells (4). This study is significant because cannabinoids might be developed to achieve effect on reducing proliferation of tumor cells.

In a significant mouse model study, cannabinoids were found to reduce the activity of metalloproteinase matrix in glioma like cells. C6.9 and C6.4 glioma cell lines were used which are cannabinoid models showing cannabinoid responsive and resistant responses. Biopsy samples of 2 patients with multiforme glioblastoma were used. The cells were treated with tetrahydrocannabinol, JWH-133 a synthetic cannabinoid with CB2 receptor agonist effects and fumonisin.  MMP was measured. The C6.9 cell line was found to have less tumor cell growth and less MMP-2 expression found on western blot using SDS-PAGE when treated with cannabinoids. It selectively reduced MMP-2, other MMP’s remained the same level. In C6.4 cell lines, tumor growth and level of MMP-2 were not affected. The study demonstrates that cannabinoids inhibit tumor cell growth and lowers MMP-2. MMP-2 is expressed in many different cancer lines especially aggressive activity. While the tumor generation is more complex than this, the study adds significant information about tumor genesis and a role of cannabinoids in suppressing cancer growth (5).

In summary

Cannabinoids can affect the aggressiveness of tumors by inhibiting the vascular neogenesis. In addition in the animal model for gliomas, it is demonstrated to suppress cancer cell growth and the expression of MMP-2 which is associated with many neoplastic cell lines. More studies are needed as the neoplastic process is complex. In addition, pre-clinical studies need to be translated into human studies. Every mechanism elucidated helps towards understand the complex pathophysiology of cancer and potential therapeutic targets.

References

1.Śledziński, P., Zeyland, J., Słomski, R., Nowak., A.  The current state and future perspectives of cannabinoids in cancer biology. Cancer Biology. 2018; 7(30):765-775

2, Gholizadeh, F., Gharehmani, M.H., Aliebrahimi, S., Shadboorestan, A., Ostad, S.N.  Assessment of cannabinoids agonist and antagonist in invasion potential of K562 cancer cells. Iran Biomed. 2018  (epub ahead of print)

3. McAllister SD, Soroceanu L, Desprez P-Y. The antitumor activity of plant-derived non-psychoactive cannabinoids. Journal of neuroimmune pharmacology : the official journal of the Society on NeuroImmune Pharmacology. 2015;10(2):255-267. doi:10.1007/s11481-015-9608-y.

4. Blazquez, C., Casanova, M.L., Planas, A., del Pulgar, T.G., Villanueva, C., Fernandez-Acenero, M.J., Aragones, J., Huffman, J.W., Jorcano, J.L., Guzman, M. Inhibition of tumor angiogenesis by cannabinoids. FASEB J. 2003, Jan., 17(3):529-531

5. Blazquez, C., Salazar, M., Carracedo, A., Lorente, M., Egia, A., Gonzalez-Feria, L., Haro, A., Velasco, G., Guzman, M. Cannabinoids inihibit glioma cell invasion by down regulating matrix metalloproteinase-2 expression. Neuropharmacology. 2008, Jan. 54(1):235-243

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Epilepsy, Glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, pain, Parkinson's disaese, Peripheral neuropathy, Tumor

Medical marijuana: dispelling myths and fallacies behind cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol

Virginia Thornley, M.D. Neurologist, Epileptologist

Introduction

The endocannabinoid system is found naturally in the brain. It is responsible for the sense of well-being one gets after running a 5-mile course. It does not work through endorphins or adrenaline, as some people may think. It works at the level of the endocannabinoid system. There is a community of CBD producers and consumers and it is in this mysterious world that it is well-known to be used in many medical conditions, still shunned by the majority of the medical community, Congress and even patients in general. The 2 most commonly known are cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol. Cannabidiol has medical properties and has a weak affinity to the CB1 receptor which is predominantly found throughout the central nervous system, which is likely why it is found to work in numerous neurological conditions. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a well-known cannabinoid most notoriously known for the euphoria of kingpins seen on movies propagated by pop culture. Unfortunately, these connotations overshadow the well-known medicinal benefits. Cannabinoids have been used for centuries even in the B.C. period. It was part of the American pharmacopeia in the 1980’s until it was banned in the 1930’s. Slowly, these products are gaining popularity as a treatment for many medical conditions, primarily neurological because the CB1 receptor is so abundant in the nervous system, due to patients becoming more and more frustrated with the adverse effects and ineffectiveness of conventional treatments. In Europe, a combination of THC and CBD have been used in multiple sclerosis patients since 2010.  Animal studies and cell line culture studies demonstrate many potential mechanisms in which CB1 receptors, CBD and THC may be beneficial at the cellular level in many diseases, mechanisms are still being elucidated. It is most commonly used for chronic pain and epilepsy. As with any medication, it may or not be effective for everybody.

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How it works–the nitty gritty

Cannabidiol has none of the psychoactive properties as THC. One needs 100 times the amount of CBD to have the same intoxication as THC. Therefore, it works well for those who are reluctant to go this route but who have found conventional medications which do not provide effectiveness, they are simply not cutting it. Because very little is know about its titration, medical marijuana can seem like entering into the world of an apothecary, or such as that found in the medieval days when potions are concocted. Physicians who use it in their treat it similar to a medication and the guidelines are similar start low and go slowly.  Tetrahydrocannabinol is more potent and at higher doses works more effectively for pain control and seizures. THC is used at relatively low concentrations in order to effect its medical properties, at higher concentrations one may run into side effects which offsets its medical value. There are different ratios of CBD:THC, different ratios correspond to different symptoms treated.  CBD is required in conjunction with THC in order to offset the potential side effects of THC. Tolerance does not build in the system such as that seen with opioids, although if one is medical marijuana naive, the lowest dose possible is ideal. There are no side effects of respiratory depression such as that seen with other medications for pain such as opioids.Consult with your treating physician.

Current legal state of affairs

Currently, there are many states that recognize the medical value of medical marijuana with medical marijuana laws allowing the opening of licensed dispensaries. However, the same cannot be said for the federal law.  In some states, the carrying of THC on your person can result in fines and imprisonment. Despite marijuana laws enacted, qualified physicians are at risk for being questioned by authorities, its recommendation and use is not for the faint of heart on the part of physicians and patients. Cannabidiol comes from hemp oil and is not considered illegal. However, anyone who even has 1% hemp oil in their product can still label that product as cannabidiol, which may be the reason why some patients are not getting the full medical effects when bought from the flea market or a vitamin store.  Tetrahydrocannabidiol which is more well-known for its recreational use and concomitant psychoactive properties at very high doses is federally illegal in many states. Many states often have registries so patients who require this may obtain an ID and verify they are under the care of a qualified physician. It can take a few months to obtain an ID because many patients are often at the end of their ropes in terms of effectiveness of medications. Many patients wish to come off opioids or do not like the idea of needing higher and higher pain medications for their chronic illnesses. It may serve as a great antidote for the current opioid crisis that is well-documented in the news or overdocumented in the news. Many mothers order products online from other countries to counteract the illegalities of their states in order to help their child who may be using 4 potent anti-epileptic agents and is now like a zombie because of the number of medications. While physicians are leery suggesting anything that is in category 1, its medical value cannot be disputed. There is too much evidence tipping it towards the other side of the scale. As tPA was in its infancy of use and physicians were hesitant using it due to its hemorrhagic adverse effect and is now the standard of care for stroke protocols, medical marijuana will likely find its way back into the pharmacopeia, the amount of medical evidence is far too compelling to ignore.

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In conclusion

In short, when used wisely, cannabidiol is a non-intoxicating effective treatment for many medical conditions especially neurologic, as evidenced by thousands of years of history of its use and current animal models, clinical trials and wider clinical experience in Europe. When cannabidiol is combined with low concentrations of THC, the medical effect is even greater with the entourage effect without the stigmatized psychoactive effects that are usually associated with THC.

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